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"Not for me; I run the place." Mercer grinned like a boy and took his suitcase. "I'll wager you're starving, and there's a smashing little deli down the street that's open late. You can have a bite and then we'll head back to home base."
The deli turned out to be kosher, and John renewed his acquaintance with a proper Reuben sandwich.
"You really went bugger-all? Handed over the collar and the cross for good?" Mercer asked before taking a sip of his mineral water.
"I did." John felt his stomach clench and willed himself not to turn lunch into a confessional booth. "I'd like to keep a low profile while I'm here, if that's possible. I'm using my middle name, Patrick, as my last name. Like I told you over the phone, I've had enough upheaval in my life."
John hadn't informed his friend about the details of what had made him leave the church. As open-minded as Mercer was, even he'd have a hard time swallowing the story of how John and his sister had been victimized and made enemies by the immortal demons known as the Darkyn.
His friend nodded. "We're not a nosy lot at the abbey." He smirked. "The brothers are more interested in seeing how much work they can get out of you while you're with us anyway. Tote that barge; lift that bale—that sort of thing."
The brothers. John's appetite vanished. "You never mentioned your affiliation with the church. What order governs the monastery?" He prayed it was not Les Frères de la Lumière, the Brethren of the Light, who had used him repeatedly in their battle against the vampires known as Darkyn.
"We're Franciscans," Mercer said. He tugged at the lapel of his jacket. "I wear street clothes when I drive into town, mostly in hopes that I'll be mistaken for Hugh Grant and kidnapped by a deranged supermodel, but on our grounds it's all about the robe and rope."
Franciscan monks were among the poorest and most dedicated of God's servants, and some of John's tension automatically eased. "No worldly goods at all? Somehow I expected a continental like you to end up running a Benedictine order."
Mercer laughed. "Brown is bloody hot enough. I'm not wearing black in the tropics."
After they finished their sandwiches, Mercer bought some bagels, lox, and cream cheese to take back to the monastery.
"I've often regretted not being born a Jew," he explained as they went to his ancient station wagon. "Their food is so much better. I'd trade ham and pork chops for kugel and matzo-ball soup any day."
"You'd have to marry," John pointed out. "Single rabbis are frowned on."
"After all these years of celibacy, I expect I'd need a spot of coaching." His friend shrugged. "Then the bird would want to meet my parents, and Mum would finally die of shock the way she's been threatening to all these years."
In his letters to John, Mercer had confessed to an extended battle with an addiction that had ruined his ability to stay in England. His parents, wealthy supporters of the Catholic church there, had not been sympathetic. In his last letter, which had caught up with John in Chicago, Mercer had told him he had a new vision of his faith and his role in the church. How that vision had led him to become the abbot of a Franciscan monastery, John wasn't sure. He'd never imagined a lively and intelligent soul like Mercer retreating to the cloister.
It's not as isolated as the North of England, thank the Almighty, and we're involved with the local community on a regular basis. Mercer had written of his new post in South Florida. Feeding the homeless, helping out the elderly, guiding the kids, that sort of thing. I feel like I finally have a place in the world, John.
John, who had never found his place, had tried not to envy his friend.
"You speak Spanish, don't you?" Mercer asked now.
"Good, because half of our people don't understand anything else."
John wondered if his friend had some agenda to repair the damage that had destroyed his calling. "I'll help however I can, but don't think it will change my mind. I'm done with the church."
"I got that loud and clear over the phone, Johnny," Mercer said. "I've all the friars I can handle anyway. What we could really use is a procurator. Over time we've inherited a dozen lifelong monastics, and you know how hopeless the old guys are at dealing with the outside world. I'm so busy I can't babysit all of them. You'd make a great go-between."
John wasn't going to commit himself yet. Not even for Mercer. "I'm really not sure what I want to do. Let's take it one day at a time."
His friend nodded and chuckled. "That's my motto."
Lucan dried his face with an ivory hand towel and straightened to face the space on the wall where the mirror had been removed. Despite legend and Hollywood propaganda, Darkyn could see their reflections just as well as humans could, although many avoided mirrors. Guilt, perhaps, over the fact that time weathered every human face around them but left theirs untouched, or the old superstition that they would see the devil grinning at them over their shoulder.
We are all variations on Dorian Gray, my friend, Gabriel Seran had told him once. We simply have not yet found our portraits.
Lucan personally didn't particularly like or dislike mirrors; he had them removed only because, thanks to a minor side effect of his talent, they had the unfortunate tendency to shatter around him. If the old superstition about receiving seven years' bad luck for every mirror one broke were true, he would need to live an eternity to work off his.
A knock on the door made Lucan reach for his gloves. "What is it?"
"A call for you, master," Burke said from outside.
He dropped the gloves. "Tell whoever it is that I died during the last Crusade."
Lucan dragged his fingers through his damp hair. The other reason he didn't need mirrors was because his face had not changed in seven centuries. He had been considered handsome in nearly every age he had lived, thanks to whatever titled adulterer had impregnated his mother, Gwynyth, a minor lady-in-waiting at a forgotten court. That randy nobleman had gifted him with strong, defined features and an abundance of fine fair hair that had begun turning silver in his fourteenth year. His mother's eyes had been a limpid cornflower blue, so he assumed his sire had also endowed him with his strangely colorless eyes. Given his lack of color, Lucan occasionally wondered if Gwynyth had spread her legs for an albino.
Ask me about your father again, sweeting, his mother had purred during one of the rare interviews she had granted him while screwing her way into the queen's service, and I'll cut out your tongue.
Gwynyth's people had been little more than gentrified farmers, the descendents of landholders and by-blows left behind by raiding Norsemen. From them Lucan had inherited a broad, heavy-boned frame and a peculiar quickness usually confined to smaller, lighter men. During his eighteenth year he had suddenly gained another four inches in height, growing so quickly that his joints stiffened and ached for months. That final surge of adolescence had given him an impressive length of limb and made him the tallest of his master's squires. His size, agility, and reach had caught the attention of a visiting Templar, who had convinced Lucan that God had endowed him thusly to save Jerusalem from the infidels.
Thou art made to be the strong arm of God, the warrior priest assured him. Come to the temple and pledge thyself to be my brother in arms, and I will train thee myself.
Lucan shrugged into a white linen shirt with full sleeves. How pitiful his life would have been if he had not abandoned his mother to her court intrigues. When he had told her he intended to take his vows, she had threatened to send him back to his grandfather's farm to work the fields. There he might have lived thirty or forty years, long enough to spawn the next generation of plowmen and die of some dismal disease or injury common to his birth era.
How much trouble Gwynyth might have saved him, if only she had carried out one of her threats.
A timid knock interrupted his thoughts. "Master Lucan?"
"What now?" he asked through clenched teeth.
"Lord Tremayne says that he is aware that you died after the last Crusade," Burke said, "but he would still like to speak with you. He is on hold for you."
Lucan jerked open the door and glared down at his tresora. "You put the high lord of the Darkyn on hold?"
"He said he didn't mind." Burke erupted into a spate of sneezes.
Lucan snatched the cordless receiver out of his hand, stepped back, and slammed the door in his tresora's face. He switched the phone on and lifted it to his ear. "My apologies for keeping you waiting, seigneur. I vow I will strangle my human servant at the next opportunity."
"Do not deprive yourself of that congested jester on my account, Lucan." Richard Tremayne's silken voice curled inside his head like a contented, purring feline. "When he is not evacuating his orifices, the fellow doubtless has his merits. Do you know, has he tried Sudafed? My humans claim it a miracle drug."
"I shall inquire of him." Burke would have to die for this. "Your generosity is unexpected and deeply appreciated, seigneur."
"That I doubt," Richard said. "How are you finding your first taste of suzerainty?"
"The bureaucracy may drive me to frenzy." Why were they chatting as old friends long parted? Lucan had abandoned Richard without warning or permission. "I have gathered nearly a hundred, not enough for a proper jardin, but I suspect there are others waiting to see what I will make of it."
"Michael is among them."
"I owe Cyprien nothing." Agitated by the mention of the one Kyn he would kill for nothing, Lucan walked out to the wall of security camera monitors in his bedchamber that displayed different views of the entire nightclub. "I believe you are owed a proper explanation for my disobedience."
"It is a little late to be inventing pretty excuses for leaving my service." His voice took on an edge that scraped fine, sharp claws against Lucan's ear. "You served me faithfully for many years. I knew one day you would tire of it." The high lord's tone changed slightly, neutralizing the piercing effect. "My rule may soon come to an end, and I could not have deeded you like a castle or a fortune to my successor."